Monday, May 31, 2010


The season is changing again. Spring is giving way to summer. Already the heat and humidity are upon us. Daily activities change and distractions pop up everywhere. I've certainly had a lot of them lately! My writing time has greatly diminished with other obligations taking the forefront. It happens.

I'm doing what I can to keep my writing "alive" during this time of intense distraction. I did manage to map out the remainder of the WIP, and the "But List" really helped me focus my scenes. Now I just have to get back into the story and pick up where I left off. It's still not finished after all this time, but I have done quality work and am proud of that.

I'll blog more when I have more time!


Saturday, May 15, 2010

The "But List"

Perhaps it doesn't sound quite as glamorous as the "Bucket List", but for novel writing the "But List" is a very useful tool. It's a slimmed-down version of the "Goal, Complication, Result" list that many of us use -- a way to keep track of conflict. Mine is a table with just four columns: INDEX, POV, WANTS/NEEDS and "BUT".

In the INDEX column, I keep track of which scene I'm referring to. I use a three-digit format: act, chapter, scene. The chapters are continuous, but the scene numbers are restarted at "1" for each chapter. For Act III, Chapter 27, Scene 2, the notation is: 3-27-2. Easy and quick.

The POV column contains just the name of the POV character for the given scene. Again, easy and quick.

The WANTS/NEEDS column contains the POV character's main goal for the scene. It is something the character wants or needs. I use WANTS/NEEDS instead of GOAL as the heading for this column because it feels more immediate, more real. People don't think in terms of goals; they think in terms of what they want or need at any given moment. Goals exist, of course, but we only think of them as such in certain contexts. I like to be reminded that characters are driven by wants and needs, rather than just goals, which sound too impersonal as a source of motivation.

Finally, the "BUT" column contains the complication, whatever happens that stands in the way of true happiness. For example, if a character wants to buy an ice cream cone, then the "BUT" column might contain: "The store is closed." No true happiness there! Or, if the character will buy the ice cream cone, then it must be something else, such as: "Cashier remarks it's fattening." So, the POV character reaches the goal, but finds reason to regret it. Hmm, maybe I'll keep that in mind the next time I go shopping for ice cream!

The "But List" helps me focus my scenes to ensure they are goal-driven, rather than just a bunch of stuff that sort of happens to characters who just seem to show up at some place. It also helps me maintain a sense of conflict.

The general advice is that every scene must contain conflict, and I strive for that, but I've read plenty of scenes by successful authors and found very little outright conflict in them (the scenes, not the authors). I like it when sometimes things do work out okay for a character. It's a welcome relief from the constant pressure. It creates a happy moment and a release of tension, usually just before some major complication comes along and ruins things yet again. I know other writers and aspiring writers also share this view, that not every scene has to be pumped full of conflict, despair and broken dreams. The plot can move forward in other ways, such as a character learning information while having a good time.

In fact, I just read such a scene in the second Nightrunner novel (by Lynn Flewelling). Seregil had a romantic encounter that was enjoyable and he got some new information to spur him on. Perhaps the only conflict was that he would have liked to have stayed longer, but that sentiment wasn't expressed. He had his fun and now he's off for another adventure! Works for me (as a reader of this scene; actual lifestyle choices are another topic).

I was afraid in looking back over my current WIP that I might find the scenes were too lacking in goals and complications. I was pleased to find that only a handful of scenes needed any tweaking, and the adjustments are minor. My effort to keep goals and conflict in mind as I write has paid off. It's becoming second nature.

Well, I'm off to work more on my "But List", and solve some antagonist issues that are holding things up -- not altogether unexpected behavior for an antagonist.


Off-Color After-Thought: In the spirit of the "Bucket List", an actual "Butt List" does sound intriguing....

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A System of Organization

I've spent a bit of time this past week getting myself organized. Rather, I've been organizing my notes, not only for my current and some previous WIPs, but for my new story idea as well (the one I dreamed up while sleeping).

To help me do this, I've started using Microsoft's One Note (tm) program, which is really cool. I've had it for several years but never got around to using it, until recently. I'm glad I did. It's a terrific way to organize notes. Now, instead of using several different programs and sifting through numerous different files, I can put all my notes in one place and access them easily and conveniently without the need to open another program. This is so easy! I even developed a template to help me start off each new novel as I convert my old notes to this new system.

If you're not familiar with One Note (tm), understand that it's based on the idea of a three-ring binder. If you want to organize notes in a binder, you will fill the binder with pages and you'll probably also put some dividers in there to separate the pages into various sections. With this program, you create electronic "notebooks". The notebooks are listed down the left side of your screen so you can move from one notebook to another notebook with just one click. Within each "notebook" you create "dividers" (tabs across the top of the screen) and "pages" (tabs running down the right side of the screen). Click on a notebook, click on a divider, then click on a page and you see that page in the center of the screen. A very simple format and incredibly easy and convenient to use.

I create a new notebook for each novel. Across the top, I have dividers for major sections, including:

PROJECT (with pages for a project time line, weekly goals, work notes to remind me of what I need to do next, and pages for keeping track of eventual submissions, etc.);

IDEAS (a "sandbox" for brainstorming ideas about plot, characters, etc. -- once I have something I want to use, I copy and paste it over to other sections as appropriate);

WORLD (for fantasy world-building, including maps, descriptions of places, and pages for various aspects of the world including mythology, political system, history, culture, etc.);

CONLANGS (if any);

CHARACTERS (with a table listing all the characters, their ages, places of origin and brief identifications, then separate pages for each of the important characters to flesh them out); and

PLOT (with an Overview, and pages for various tables and lists and details, and a tab for each ACT (I divide my stories into Act I, Act II A, Act II B and Act III), where I put details about chapters and scenes within those portions of the story.

It's a lot of work on the one hand, but it has a tremendous, positive impact. In part it makes the process of writing a novel somewhat impersonal. It becomes like any other job: do this, then do that, figure this out, problem solve that, tie this together, and move on, and do it by next week. This logical, organized, impersonal side of the writing process helps make the chaos of the creative side more bearable. I'm amazed at how much information I can keep in one place and how quickly I can locate individual pages using the navigation system of this program -- so much better than hunting around inside multiple lengthy text documents and spreadsheets!

It's been a lot of fun getting this new system up and running, and I'm so glad I finally tried out One Note (tm). It's well worth the effort to learn how it works and develop a system using it.

Best wishes for keeping yourself organized,


Monday, May 03, 2010

Staying Centered

Progress is ongoing. I can't help but revise as I move forward -- it's slow, and I've tried to set that aside but I just can't since the progress is so solid. The story is over 38k now and I'm into some exciting chapters at this point. The pace is picking up, the stakes are higher, the intrigue is developing into the full-blown confrontations that will come later in this part of the story. I've had to pause to do some more research but I'm keeping that to a minimum. Parts of this story are set in a variety of locations and I need to gather some information to help me set the story in those places with some sense of local flavor. I'll expand on the details as needed in the eventual "edit" (apart from the ongoing editing).

I've also had major brainstorms on plots for other novels, and awoke one morning with a wonderful new story idea pretty well mapped out. I made notes, and since then have expanded on those notes. I think we move forward and then we need to move laterally to sure up that forward progress. Here I am making breakthroughs with the WIP and suddenly I'm seeing similar issues in other novels I've worked on! I've taken some time this past week to delve into plotting notes for past novels and have gained some new inspiration and learned more about my plotting tendencies and how I can improve. Growth is cyclical, and we need to free ourselves to go with the flow and take advantage of the insights when they come to us.

So, I've now got another exciting new story to work on whenever I get this one finished! I didn't complete the first draft within May (no surprise at this point) but I am making steady progress. I'll have to push the deadline off until the end of May for a complete draft of my WIP. That's okay, as long as I'm making progress. At this point I'm feeling the need to go back and map out what I've written, to help me plot more clearly the specific sequences to come. I'll be working on that now for the next few days.

Looking forward to a productive May,